Editor’s Note: As the world was realizing that COVID-19 would pause gatherings everywhere, an annual fundraising event went on as scheduled in Las Vegas. Smart Meetings asked Kate Patay, chair of SEARCH Foundation and chief strategy officer of Patay Consulting, how she kept everyone safe.

Event Goal

SEARCH Foundation’s annual signature event raises funds to directly assist event industry professionals in crisis. SEARCH provides grants to those who have fallen ill or who have lost their home or business through a natural disaster like earthquakes, wildfires or floods. This event brings in nearly 40 percent of the annual budget.

Biggest Challenge

Ironically, the coronavirus jeopardized an event, which took place March 11, to raise crisis-relief funds for hospitality professionals just as the entire industry was on the verge of crisis.

In the days beforehand, the team grappled with whether or not to cancel. Their task was to sift facts from growing panic, and to quickly search out how it might be possible to proceed safely.


The team stayed in close contact with the local health department and the facility, closely following guidelines provided by health and safety experts. The team knew that at any moment the event might have to be shut down completely.

Caesars Entertainment, which owns Planet Hollywood, the event venue, was crucial to eventual success. It expanded the footprint to give SEARCH space for social distancing. It also wasted no time in getting ahead of hygiene concerns in the public areas and with food and beverage staff.

Cort Events, a title sponsor, provided furniture that was thoroughly sanitized. The SEARCH event team worked closely with the risk assessor, MC Event Consulting, and took precautions at every touchpoint with sanitizer and signage. Carbotti Experiences, with help from the team at Lombardo’s, GBM6 and Forward Hospitality Group, helped modify the layout to accommodate recommended distancing.

Focal Point

Apart from driving awareness for the foundation and raising funds, the event’s other significant purpose is to unite the community of professionals who attend. The foundation is totally volunteer-driven and helmed by industry professionals, which means expanding its reach and donor base is critical to being able to provide resources and assistance to those in need.

Success Measurement

The sheer number of individuals who showed up to support the cause in an uncertain time was impressive. Seven new hospitality professionals joined SEARCH100, the foundation’s monthly giving plan; other members doubled their monthly contributions. Overall, willingness to assist fellow industry members in crisis was the greatest sign of success.

Lessons Learned

Having a plan B, C and D in place is always a best practice. The team learned the value of having risk managers on the team: They were key to modifying existing plans. While planners hope never to employ a risk plan, this event was a reminder that having one is an absolute necessity.

The event reinforced that there is no replacement for human connection. Hospitality professionals can go virtual and diversify what they do in times of crisis, but at the heart of it all is bringing people together. More than ever, SEARCH Foundation stands behind #StrongerTogether, confident in the industry’s resilience.